Cornwall & the World’s Purest Diamond

The celebrated Regent Diamond has been on display in the Louvre in Paris since 1887. It is widely considered to be the most beautiful and the purest diamond in the world.

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The Pitt Diamond Credit: The Louvre Museum

But the Regent Diamond once went by another name. It was known as the Pitt Diamond, after Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc, near the Cornish town of Lostwithiel. At one time this precious stone was in his possession. But for Pitt, like every owner before him, owning this diamond brought scandal and misfortune.

From India to Cornwall?

Thomas Pitt was the Governor of Madras (modern day Chennai) from 1698 to 1709. It was here that he met the Indian merchant called Jamchand. In 1701 Pitt purchased a 410 carat (82g) uncut diamond from him. He paid 48,000 pagoda or £20,000 for it. A king’s ransom at the time.

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Madras, now Chennai in India

And in 1702 Pitt smuggled the diamond back to England in the heel of his son Robert’s shoe.

The Pitt Diamond’s Provenance

How the diamond came into the trader Jamchand’s possession is far more complicated. In 1698, according to one story, a slave working in the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh found a huge uncut diamond. He is said to have stolen it by hiding it inside a large wound in his leg. But the stone brought him neither luck nor fortune. Soon after an English sea captain stole the diamond, murdered him and sold it on to the Indian merchant.

Another story claims that the diamond belonged to Abul Harsh Qutb Shah, the last ruler of Golconda in South India. In this story the slave stole the diamond during a siege on the city.

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19th century illustration of the diamond

Whatever the history the Pitt Diamond made it’s way back to England in secret in a young man’s boot. It was then sent to London to be polished and shaped by Harris a famous diamond cutter. The work took two years, between 1704 and 1706, and cost Pitt £5,000.

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credit: Boconnoc House and Estate

Rumours began circulating that Pitt had acquired the diamond by dishonest means. The leading satirist Alexander Pope even penned the following lines:

Asleep and naked as an Indian lay,

An honest factor stole a gem away

He pledged it to the Knight, the knight had wit,

So kept the diamond and the rogue was bit.

Pitt was forced to publicly account for and publish the details of the transaction in order to vindicate himself. But his reputation was damaged.

The French Crown

Pitt made many attempts to sell the diamond with no luck. He repeatedly approached various members of European royalty. Eventually it was purchased by the French Regent, Philippe II in 1717 for £135,000, roughly £19 million today.

The precious stone then became the Regent Diamond and part of the crown jewels of France. It was set in a crown for Louis XV’s coronation in 1722. And used in a new crown made for the coronation of Louis XVI in 1775. Mary Antoinette even worn it in a hat.

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credit: Regent Diamond, The Louvre Museum

These days the Pitt Diamond is thought to be worth around £50 million.

Further reading

Cornish China Clay – The Discovery of Our White Gold

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